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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

Party Hearty a short story from Slovakia.

Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

In September 2002 I rocked up in Bratislava with a couple of bags and just enough cash to last until my first pay check. And so unfolded one of the great years of my life…

Winter hit Bratislava hard that year and I was totally unprepared for it. ‘‘Lignon, is that your damn coat?!’’ scoffed Goldblum one day, as we headed out into town. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call a winter coat, but it was all I had and I was too stubborn to buy a proper one. Before long Golblum began calling it ‘‘the pathetic piece of cloth’’ and was forever shaking his head at me as we stood shivering at the local tram stop.

It was there that we’d occasionally bump into a French guy called Noel, who lived in the neighbourhood. A somewhat comical character with a protruding jawline and patchy English, he seemed equally concerned for my wellbeing.

“Um… Jon, your friend… eez coat, I think eez not good enough, eh?’’

When the snow hit, Goldblum and I embarked on grocery runs to stock up on essentials. These hazardous expeditions involved negotiating a steep section of Hlaváciková in order to get onto the main road. Taking the paved walkway around the hill was a slow, tedious affair infested with black ice. Thus we opted for a shortcut by scrambling across the grassy slope. This was comfortable enough on the way up, but highly precarious as a descent on the way back.

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Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

Armed to the teeth with bulging shopping bags, we were absolutely crazy to even try it. And yet that’s what we did, time and time again. Those shortcuts on the way back down were so slippery, Goldblum and I eventually decided to attack them at a brisk dash.

The first time I fell, half a pack of eggs ended up smashed and I was left with a collection of bruises on my arm. Curled up in the snow moaning, I glanced over at Goldblum, who was lying flat on his back. There were boxes of cereal, beer cans and tomatoes scattered around his feet. I can still picture my friend hauling himself up, tears of pain and laughter streaming down his cheeks as he crawled about gathering up our provisions.

Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.Short story Bratislava Slovakia

Christening our deadly shortcut The Snow Abyss, Goldblum and I never turned down a chance to tackle it. Slowly, we improved our efforts, probably as a direct result of all the scrapes and scratches we picked up over the weeks. My footwear didn’t help matters, a pair of flat, black loafers that Goldblum labeled The Death Shoes.

‘‘You’re on a suicide mission Lignon!’’ he shouted, during a memorably hellish descent.

‘‘Between that pathetic piece of cloth and those shoes…’’ ‘‘Uh oh…’’ I cried, as I slid down the final third, losing the delicate battle of balance. ‘‘Joooon, I’m coooooming’’. ‘‘Never. Ever. Say. That. Again’’ he cried, hitting the ground with successive bounces. Finally, he came to a crumpled stop a few meters from the path. ‘‘Fuck’’, grumbled Goldblum with a defeated growl, ‘‘so close and yet so far’’.

Delvita Bratislava.

Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

Our local supermarket was Delvita, a drab store inhabited by a disconsolate workforce that had long ago given up on life. It was barely a degree warmer inside the supermarket, so we would scurry around picking up what we needed before exiting at the earliest opportunity. Until that is, we met Beer Bottle Machine!

‘‘This must be the most hi-tech piece of machinery in Bratislava!’’ laughed Jon.

This brand new contraption just appeared one day. Basically, it took in people’s empty bottles before dispensing a ticket that enabled you to claim money back. Goldblum fell in love the moment he saw it.  Perhaps not the most hi tech thing in the city, but certainly the most modern machine in the supermarket. Hence we started bringing our empties to Delvita, a routine Jon really got a kick out of. 

Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

Lo and behold, The Beer Bottle Machine!

Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

To take our minds off of the plummeting temperatures, Goldblum and I began concocting Beer Bottle Machine adventures during our treks to and from the apartment. Envisioning them as an animated TV series, the pilot saw Beer Bottle Machine save a young girl’s life after she slips on some ice and falls into The Danube.

Another classic instalment involves Little Katka recruiting Beer Bottle Machine to take over Irish Mike’s Obchodna classes after he goes down with the flu. Of course BBM proves more popular than Mike and ends up claiming the class permanently. Perhaps my personal favourite of these silly tales is the one where Beer Bottle Machine campaigns for The Slovak Presidency. And wins baby! Unfortunately, our plans to sell the series to Hollywood never came to fruition.

Beer bottle machine.

The adventures of Beer Bottle Machine!

Another way of distracting ourselves from the evil cold was through the age old method of alcohol consumption. By this point, city staples such as The Slovak Pub and The Dubliner had given way to house parties, with teachers taking it in turns to play host. 

Martina, one of the school’s Slovak teachers, put together the first home hosted shindig. Organised alongside her flatmate and close friend Jana, Ben was literally foaming at the mouth when he heard the news. ‘‘Have you SEEN this Jana girl?’’ he asked, as we looked over the invitations in our pigeonholes. ‘‘I’m talking Queen High Minx!!!’’

‘‘I know Martina is hoping you’ll be there’’.

‘‘Hey Lignon’’ called Jessica, a Texan who’d entered the teachers’ room carrying a stack of course books. ‘‘You going to Martina’s party?’’ ‘‘I think so yeah’’ I answered, popping the invitation into my breast pocket. ‘‘That’s good… I know Martina is hoping you’ll be there’’. She smiled at me with a wink, dumped the books on her desk and trotted off up the stairs, mission accomplished.

Party hearty a short story from Slovakia

Party hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

My recollections of Martina and Jana’s party are foggy. I remember flowing alcohol, a pet rabbit called Gerda and sitting in the kitchen drinking vodka with Minnesota Jordan and Citizen Kovacs. And of course, I recall ending up in bed with Martina. She was a quiet, elf-like girl with blonde hair and big, innocent eyes. We played around for a bit, but I was too hung up on Sladjana to let things go further.

‘‘Did you?’’ Sladjana asked, a few days later over Obchodna Street cappuccinos. ‘‘No, we didn’t’’ I replied, returning her piercing gaze. ‘‘Good’’, she said in her expressionless way, eyes fixed on the spoon she was carefully twirling around her coffee cup. As always, she had me wrapped around her little finger.

Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

And so the house party season unfurled against a wintry backdrop of fuzzy, half-remembered evenings. There was a Cheese & Wine Party hosted by Mary at Sladjana’s place, in honour of Bill & Carol’s coinciding birthdays. Taking place amid a fierce blizzard, the hallway was soon reduced to a battlefield of muddy shoes, snow-capped scarves and damp coats. Many of which had fallen to the floor from the overwhelmed coat rack.

The night was also memorable because Carol got herself locked in the bathroom due to the door’s faulty locking mechanism. Encouraged by an ever-growing group of amused spectators, it took a SWAT Team of Slovak neighbours and several boxes of tools to free her. When at long last she emerged, a free woman, it was to a chorus of drunken cheers and the uncorking of a celebratory bottle of red.

Party Hearty a short story from Slovakia

Party hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

Elsewhere that evening, Mary cooked up a hearty pot of potato soup for Jon, who was still unable to eat solids. That night was also the first time I saw Andrew The Bear performing his infamous Bear Dance. As with subsequent showings, it was an energetic, confusing affair with flailing claws, bared teeth and ferocious growls. I never did work out why he was called Andrew The Bear and what the dance was all about.

Soon after came The Masked Ball, another raucous night in which a bunch of the girls, including Aimee and Jen, appeared as The Petržalka Pussies. They were a Charlie’s Angels type crew of seductive cat women, complete with pointy ears and painted whiskers.

Party Hearty a short story from Slovakia.

Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

In the buildup, I was horrified to learn that people were making their own masks! Inherently useless at arts and crafts, I recruited Goldblum to whip up a last minute effort, which he simply named Lignon. It may not have won any prizes, but at least nobody had trouble working out who I was!

Mask party Bratislava.

Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

Even less ambitious were the efforts of Irish Mike, who showed up as a superhero called Bag Man. His outfit involved nothing more than a pair of sunglasses and a Delvita shopping bag wrapped around his head. Although it was unclear what injustices Bag Man fought against, he did at least have an evil nemesis, BagTron, aka Paul.

This led to a drunken debate over who would win in the event of a fight. It was an argument that essentially remained unresolved, with Goldblum passionately concluding that Beer Bottle Machine would easily destroy the pair of them!

House party Bratislava.

Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

Another legendary bash was Jessica’s White Trash Party, a get together that encouraged us to show up in lumberjack flannel shirts, wife beaters, cutoffs and thongs. It’s the only party I’ve been to where yellow teeth were considered a bonus. On the night there were prizes for the Most Mingin’ Mullet and Skankiest Dressed, awards that I failed to win despite my best efforts.

I’ll never forget riding the tram across town with Goldblum, both of us in costume. He referring to me as Billy Bob, I to him as Billy something else. The reactions among our fellow passengers ranged from hilarity and shock to disapproval and genuine concern.

White Trash Party.

Party Hearty, a short story from Slovakia.

When Christmas came around there was a mass exodus among the teachers. Some flew home for the holidays, while others headed off on foreign jaunts. Keen to explore more of Central Europe, Goldblum, Myles, Citizen Kovacs and I went to Budapest, where we rented a small apartment in the city centre. We stayed for a week and I can honestly say it ranks among the happiest, mot carefree trips of my life.

Although bitterly cold, each day was an adventure that saw our already solid friendships strengthen further. We gazed out across The Danube at the splendorous Hungarian Parliament from Chain Bridge. We spent an afternoon kicking back in the hot, salty waters of Szechenyi Baths and took a stroll through Heroes Square at sunset. There were gutsy snowball fights in the city streets, Myles ducking and diving between parked cars as we chased each other around the powdery roads.

Crossing Chain Bridge Budapest.

Chain Bridge, Budapest.

Perhaps my favourite memory of all was Citizen Kovacs and I singing carols with two of the drunkest Hungarians in Budapest. A husband and wife dressed in Santa costumes, shaking tambourines. “Merry Fucking Christmas!!!” shrieked the woman. One evening, we enjoyed a banquet of curries at an Indian restaurant where the waiter seated us at the very table Bill Clinton once dined at. Or so it said on a shiny plaque on the wall.

“Merry Fucking Christmas!!!”

Mother and father Christmas Budapest.

“Merry Fucking Christmas!” Budapest style.

As fantastic as our week in Budapest had been, I was eager to get back to Bratislava and catch up with everyone. ‘‘Ah, there she is’’ drawled Goldblum, as the first of the city’s jutting high-rises came into view from the train window. 

Who’s hosting the next party?’’ I asked”. 

“Dunno’’ said Goldblum, rubbing a peephole through the frosted window. ‘‘Maybe we can throw one’’‘‘Better be fast’’ advised Myles, ‘‘gotta fight for your right!’’ ‘‘Yeah, this house party business seems to be all the rage’’ pondered Goldblum, ‘‘we need a fresh angle!’’ Sliding the compartment window open, a gush of icy air flew in as he lit up a cigarette. ‘‘I’ll speak to Beer Bottle Machine, he’ll know what to do’’.

‘Party Hearty’ is the ninth instalment of my short story series The Slovak Files.

You can also check out my travel reports on Bratislava and Budapest.

Access my other short story collections here.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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12 Comments

  • Bertine

    What about a comic for Beer Bottle Machine?
    I’d buy it! B)

    “..a disconsolate workforce that had long ago given up on life”

    And the same people work at DekaMarkt in de Amsterdamstraat in Haarlem 😉

    March 1, 2015 - 9:34 am Reply
    • leightonliterature

      Hey, we should get Joss Whedon onto Beer Bottle Machine!

      March 1, 2015 - 9:35 am Reply
  • Mary Phillips

    Another laugh-out-loud story. The beer bottle machine rocks (although, I doubt it does this many years later.) Just one of the highlights of this story.

    March 1, 2015 - 2:43 pm Reply
  • Anonymous

    Awesome storytelling! Hoping to see Floris and the Beer Bottle Machine at Bonaroo this year.

    March 1, 2015 - 4:12 pm Reply
  • Party Hearty – a short story from Slovakia (& Hungary) | natty4t's Blog

    […] Party Hearty – a short story from Slovakia (& Hungary). […]

    March 1, 2015 - 5:09 pm Reply
  • Beverley

    A really funny read. 🙂

    March 1, 2015 - 7:27 pm Reply
  • Carol

    Oh Lignon!!!!! The best short story yet, I actually forgot I got locked in the bathroom. So many funny memories, every time you mention someone in the story I can always hear their voice in my head. From John’s American drawl, to Irish Mike’s accent. Keep writing I so love these stories.
    p.s. I definitely remember you sliding around in the winter with those black dress shoes

    March 9, 2015 - 6:45 pm Reply
  • leightonliterature

    Thanks Carol, your words have put a big smile on my face 🙂

    March 10, 2015 - 2:08 am Reply
  • Mary Phillips

    Just as enjoyable to read as the first time around. The Beer Bottle Machine…laughing out loud.

    May 21, 2020 - 7:27 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Mary! You must have read these stories so many times by now.

      May 21, 2020 - 7:28 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Thank god Carol got locked in the shower room and not the loo. Beer Bottle Machine would have never forgiven us.

    May 21, 2020 - 9:11 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Indeed, Beer Bottle Machine was not known for his forgiveness.

      May 21, 2020 - 9:25 pm Reply

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